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A Systematic Approach to Problem Solving


All organizations face challenges. Whether they are big picture issues such as missed revenue targets or efficiency-specific issues such as rework, following the Plan Do Check Act system can help businesses implement effective solutions. The key activities taking place in the four phases of this simple approach are outlined below.

In the Plan phase, the cause of the problem is identified and a solution is designed. Conducting a thorough root cause analysis is critical to any problem-solving initiative. It allows you to design a solution that will fix the issue, not simply mask it.

Many tools can be used to conduct a root cause analysis. Two of my favourites are fishbone diagrams (in which causes are identified in the categories of materials, process, people and environment) and the ‘5 whys’ (asking “why?” repeatedly until the cause is identified).

Once the root cause of the issue is understood, select and design the solution that will best address it. Anticipate the impact following implementation and collect baseline data.

In the Do phase, the solution is implemented. To prepare for implementation, action plans are created, a stakeholder analysis is conducted and communication plans are prepared. Once these detailed plans are in place, the change can be implemented within the work area.

In the Check phase, the results are reviewed to determine if the issue has been resolved and to quantify the benefits. Speak with individuals who were directly involved in the change and obtain their feedback. Capture new data and compare it with the original data to measure the gains.

In the Act phase, the change is incorporated into standard work or additional improvements are made. If the change is to be built into standard work, amend any process documents and communicate the permanent changes to all stakeholders. If further improvements are needed, apply the Plan Do Check Act system again until the change can be incorporated into standard work practices.

While the above phases offer guidance on what activities need to take place, of equal importance is how the steps are carried out. The most successful problem-solving initiatives actively engage employees at all levels throughout the stages. Employees who do the work every day have the most comprehensive understanding of where the issues are, what solutions will be most effective and what communication and training requirements exist. By valuing their input and basing solutions on their ideas, organizations can implement effective solutions with staying power.

The Plan Do Check Act system is an effective problem-solving technique that sets the foundation for a culture of continuous improvement. Momentum increases as employees learn to apply the tools independently within their own work areas—the ultimate goal for any organization seeking efficiencies through employee engagement.